Pope Benedict XVI leads the mass for Ash Wednesday, opening Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for the Christians, before the Holy Week and Easter, on February 13, 2013 at St Peter's basilica at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI made his first public appearance on Wednesday since his shock resignation announcement, asking thousands of cheering pilgrims at the Vatican to 'keep praying for me'.
Credit: Gabriel Bouys

Pope Benedict XVI presided over his last mass as the head of the Catholic Church Wednesday, just two days after his resignation announcement shocked the world

The pope, clad in the traditional purple robes, held the Ash Wednesday ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica. It was moved from its usual location of Santa Sabina Basilica on Rome’s Aventine Hill so that more people could attend his final mass, the National Catholic Register reported

Thousands greeted Pope Benedict in the hall as he entered; he later received a standing ovation, according to BBC News

The pope walked into the Basilica without help, but used a wheeled platform to move among the large crowd of congregants, The New York Times reported

The Catholic leader took the opportunity to denounce "religious hypocrisy," saying in his sermon that "the face of the Church is sometimes marred by sins against the unity of the Church and divisions in the clergy," an apparent reference to the recent scandal known as "Vatileaks" and repeated allegations of pedophilia in the Church.

More from GlobalPost: How the Catholic Church elects a pope

The conclave held to elect Benedict's replacement will begin 15 to 20 days after his official resignation on Feb. 28. The next pope is expected to be installed by Easter. 

[View the story "Ash Wednesday: The Pope's last mass " on Storify]

Related Stories